Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Dingle Food Festival is back. Are you coming?

The Dingle Food Festival is happening this weekend and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I'm going to be able to sit back and enjoy it.

I've had a stall at the farmers' market since 2007 and as a result, the weekend of the food festival was always one of the busiest of my entire year. It was even busier when I had the café as I took part in the Taste Trail too. (I remember going to sleep at 1am on the Friday of the food festival in 2012 and setting my alarm to get up again at 4.30am - painful memories!)

This year will be different. I'm taking a sabbatical, which means I can attend all the cookery demonstrations and workshops I want, savouring the atmosphere on the streets and sampling deliciousness as I go.

Top of my agenda are cookery demonstrations from:
- Rory O'Connell of Ballymaloe renown
- Mark Moriarty who recently won the title of San Pellegrino Young Chef of the year (which means he's the best young chef in the world!)
- French chef Michel LeBorgne
- And spice supremo Arun Kapil of Green Saffron fame.

I also hope to attend the fermentation workshop. I'm intrigued by the sound of the TRADEIT project, which will showcase 20 food producers from all over Europe.

And then there's the Taste Trail. Seventy six of Dingle's shops, pubs, art galleries, cafés, restaurants and breweries will host food producers from all over the peninsula who will sell samples of their most delicious food. I'm already eagerly anticipating the likes of Dingle Bay crabmeat and monkfish thermidor tartlets, Derry Clarke's Dingle Vodka-cured salmon with pickled baby vegetables and sea herbs, porchetta with homemade bread and caramelised onions and adventures in Valhrona chocolate...

I can't wait for this year's festival. Will any of you be there?

Blogger Widgets

Friday, September 11, 2015

Memories of childhood Saturdays and a recipe for dairy-free ice cream

What were your Saturdays like when you were a child? Mine would always begin with my sisters and I huddled under duvets on the sofa, chomping on bowls of Rice Crispies with milk and giggling at Saturday morning cartoons.

They would end with mass. It never mattered how much we resisted that weekly trip to church, we’d be washed, scrubbed and dressed in our Sunday (or in this case, Saturday) best before being dragged reluctantly along to the service.
Our parents did try to sweeten the deal though. In an attempt to ensure that we didn’t fidget or fight during what often seemed like a never-ending service, our parents would promise us the ice cream of our choice from the shop across the road from the church once mass was over.

Peering into a freezer full of ice cream, trying to decide between a Feast, Cornetto, Freaky Foot or Tangle Twister became the Saturday night ritual of my childhood and I still associate ice cream with a treat.

It’s a treat that I’ve been unable to indulge in since I started to follow the OMS diet. And boy have I missed it!

Despite the fact that there has been a huge growth in free-from foods, I haven’t been able to find many ice creams I can eat.  A lot of dairy-free ices are made with coconut milk and because of its high saturated fat content, that’s not an ingredient for me.

Lately though, I have been hearing good things about ice creams made with frozen bananas. So last week I decided to experiment.

I must admit that my hopes weren’t high. Bananas may be sweet but I couldn’t see how they could also be creamy…

However, there’s magic in these ingredients. Combined, they create a flavour, a texture and a melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness that's just like ice cream. 

And you don’t just have to take my word for it. My partner Richard (who hasn’t had to abstain from regular ice cream like I have) likes this ice cream too. In fact, he said it might just be the best thing I’ve ever made.

So there you have it: it’s possible to combine five simple dairy-free ingredients to create a truly decadent treat – one that I think even my childhood self would have liked!

Sharon's mint-choc dairy-free ice cream
This makes two moderately-sized ice cream portions. If it's the sort of evening where you want to sit on the sofa, watch TV and gorge on ice cream, you're going to need a lot more!

3 frozen bananas
3 tablespoons cocoa powder 
2 tablespoons almond milk
1 tablespoon date syrup or sweetener of your choice 
4 mint leaves

  • Peel and chop the frozen bananas. I find this easier to do if I chop the bananas into two-centimetre/one inch thick slices first. Your fingers will get cold though so it might be a good idea to wear a pair of rubber gloves to avoid the chill factor!*
  • Add the chopped banana slices and the other ingredients to a food processor or liquidiser. 
  • Blitz until smooth and enjoy. 

I'm planning to experiment with more flavour combinations in the next few weeks. I'm thinking chocolate and raspberry and rum and raisin. Do you have any other suggestions? What's your favourite ice cream flavour? Or what was your favourite ice cream when you were a child?

* In response to this post, smarter people than me have said that they peel, slice and bag their bananas before they go in the freezer. I'll be doing this from now on to avoid frozen fingers!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Niceoise salad and memories of kindness

Here's another salad recipe but this time it doesn't come with a side order of complaints about the Irish weather. (Lest you think this means the weather has improved here on the Dingle Peninsula; it's done no such thing. We may have spent the past few weeks crossing our fingers for an Indian summer but those clouds have remained resolutely in our skies.)

No, this salad comes with a more personal story...

My partner Richard is quite a bit older than I am and when we first got together, there was some disapproval from our family and friends. With this as background information, you'll understand why I felt nervous the first time I met Richard's mother. By that stage, she was an old lady in her late seventies and I thought that if anyone were going to react in a judgemental way to our age difference, it was going to be her.

How wrong I was. I came to see that Anne was someone who prized love above all else in this world. She immediately saw and understood the strength of the love we shared. Her eyes shone with happiness for her son and from that moment on, she welcomed me warmly into her family.

She prepared a Niceoise salad for us to eat on the evening of that first visit. It was the first time I'd ever tasted this clever combination of green beans, tuna, anchovies, black olives and eggs but it definitely wasn't the last. It's become one of my go-to recipes for simple suppers ever since.

Anne died in 2007 but whenever I make this salad, I think of her and how kind she was to me on our first meeting.

My memory of Anne Smallwood's Niceoise Salad
This recipe feeds two greedy adults (with some leftovers for lunch the following day). Like all salad recipes, it's pretty adaptable. You can add more or less of any of the ingredients, according to your own preference.

400g small baby potatoes
250g green beans
1 medium-sized green pepper
15 black olives, the small puckered ones are best for flavour
250g tuna in olive oil, brine or water
8 anchovies
4 eggs

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
A pinch of salt

  • Wash the potatoes and place in a saucepan. Sprinkle with salt and cover with boiling water. Simmer over a medium heat until a knife passes through the potatoes with ease. This should take between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Strain out the water and set aside to cool.
  • Prepare your other ingredients while you're waiting for the potatoes. 
  • Top and tail the beans and then cut them in half.
  • Place them in a saucepan and sprinkle with salt. Add a centimetre or two of boiling water to the pan. Cover with a lid and simmer the beans over a medium to high heat for four minutes or until they are tender but still retain a slight bite.
  • Cut the top off the pepper and scoop out the seeds and pith inside. Cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces.
  • Remove the pits from the olives and cut them in half.
  • Place the eggs in a small saucepan. Cover them with boiling water and simmer over a medium heat for seven minutes. Then place the saucepan in your sink and run cold water over the eggs until they become cool enough to handle. Set aside until it's time for assembly.
  • Make the dressing by adding the olive oil, cider vinegar, honey, mustard and salt to a jam jar, screwing on the lid and shaking the jar vigorously until all the ingredients have combined.
  • Your potatoes ought to have cooked at this stage. You could cut them in three and add them to the salad as they are but I like to fry them in a little olive oil to give them crispy edges. Simply heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add your potato slices and a sprinkling of salt. Wait for a golden crispy skin to develop before turning each slice over and doing the same again.
  • It's time for assembly. Add the beans, potatoes, tuna, olives and green pepper to a salad bowl. Toss together until they are well combined.
  • Peel the eggs by tapping them gently against a chopping board or counter top until cracks appear in the shell. Carefully peel the shell off the egg and cut each egg into quarters. Arrange the eggs and anchovies on top of the salad.
  • It's up to you whether you dress the salad before it is served or not. I usually serve the dressing alongside and allow everyone to add as much or as little as they like.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My new adventures in seaweed

I've always been intrigued by seaweed. I've taken seaweed baths. I've eaten lots of sushi. I've even purchased books by Irish seaweed gurus, Prannie Rhatigan and Sally McKenna.

I live by the coast and sometimes see neighbours foraging for seaweed along the shoreline. But I've always been nervous about gathering seaweed myself. I felt as though I lacked the knowledge I needed to identify what was safe to eat. I was convinced that I'd end up poisoning myself.

That was until I went on a seaweed foraging with Darach Ó Murchú, an outdoors guide who runs foraging workshops here in West Kerry. He opened my eyes to a whole new edible world along the shoreline. 

I wrote about my adventures in seaweed in Monday's Irish Examiner. You can read all about it here.

My hair may be windswept but at last I know how to identify some of Ireland's best edible seaweeds!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The sun has gone AWOL - this calls for an emergency panzanella salad

This summer has been a little too Irish for my liking. I know it's supposed to rain in this country but does it have to rain so much that we've only been able to have dinner outside three times in the past three months?
I know we're not supposed to swelter under the sun either but did July really have to be one of the coldest on record? Or did it have to be the case that I never once took a walk on the beach without bringing along a fleece-lined jacket for fear of encountering biting Arctic winds?

This is what my walks have looked like this summer. Nice, I know, but where's the sunshine?

This weather has had consequences. Not only is everyone in Ireland at risk of vitamin D deficiency, we've all started to feel grouchy too. We need some sunshine!

I'm not a miracle worker. I can't compel the sun to shine on Ireland. Nor can this recipe promise to make up for our lack of sunshine. All I can do is assure you that its ripe tomatoes, charred red peppers, wrinkled black olives, salty anchovies and heady fragrance of basil will look, smell and taste just like summer on a plate.

Sharon's thrown-together take on a panzanella salad
The following quantities serve two adults. 
Feel free to adjust according to your own taste. If, for example, you don't like anchovies, just leave them out. The salad will still be full of flavour. It may however need a pinch of salt. 

200g of stale sourdough bread (or any other stale bread you've got lying around)
2 medium-sized red peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
14 plum tomatoes

6 large sun-dried tomatoes
12 or so wrinkled black olives
6 anchovies 
6 large basil leaves
Salt and freshly-ground pepper 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200C/400F.
  • Wash the peppers, place them on a baking tray and put them in the oven for 25 minutes. Set a timer for 15 minutes so you can use the oven to toast your croutons for the last ten minutes of cooking time.
  • Remove the crust from the bread and chop what remains into chunks measuring approximately 1.5cm squared. (Don't worry too much about accuracy. This is a rough and ready salad.)
  • Pour a tablespoon of olive oil onto a baking tray, tilting the tray so that the oil covers the entire base. Bung in the croutons. Toss them in the oil and give them a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper.
  • Your timer should have gone off by now. Place the croutons in the oven and bake for ten minutes. By then, you should have crunchy croutons that still retain a satisfyingly chewy texture in the middle. Your peppers should be ready too - charred on the outside with yielding flesh underneath. Set both the croutons and peppers aside to cool and turn off your oven.
  • All that remains to do is chop up your remaining ingredients and add them to your salad bowl. Chop the tomatoes into quarters. 
  • Roughly chop the sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Remove the pits from the olives and cut them in half.
  • Roughly chop the anchovies.
  • Tear up the basil.
  • Peel the charred skin off the peppers and roughly chop the flesh.
  • Add all of these ingredients to a salad bowl, along with the croutons.
  • Add at least half a teaspoon of pepper (about six twists of a pepper grinder) to the salad. 
  • Use your hands or some salad servers to make sure that all of the ingredients are well combined.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Depending on the quality of your ingredients, you may need more pepper, a touch of salt or a few more basil leaves. (If you like olive oil, you can drizzle some over the salad. Personally, I don't think it needs it.)

{I know that, like the sunshine, I too have been absent from this blog. My apologies. I hope to check in here on a much more regular basis from now on. In the meantime, I wish you sunshine!}

Monday, February 23, 2015

Honesty and emotion on Lena Dunham's Girls and the much-needed comfort of cookies

I've been a fan of the TV series Girls from the very beginning. There have been many moments when Lena Dunham's (sometimes brutally) honest depiction of just how self-absorbed and unaware young women can be struck a chord and made me realise how much I've grown up since my early twenties.

I haven't enjoyed this latest series as much. Or at least I wasn't enjoying it until I watched episode 5.

This is the episode when Hannah returns to New York to find that her boyfriend Adam has moved in with another girl, that she has been replaced in his heart and that his life has moved on without her in it. She reacts in typically over-dramatic Hannah fashion (although, to be fair, I think we'd all be just as dramatic if we discovered that our boyfriend was living with someone else and hadn't bothered to tell us that our relationship was over).

This episode culminates with Hannah and Adam having a heartfelt conversation where they discuss their past relationship and where they now stand with each other in a very open and rational way. They talk about what they had and how it's gone and how they both need to leave it behind and move on to something new - although Adam is obviously more ready to do this than Hannah is.
This entire conversation felt so real to me (though it must be acknowledged that life rarely affords us the opportunity to say exactly what we feel and think at exactly the right time as it does on TV). It touched upon the sadness we all feel when letting go of something that was special; how difficult it is to recognise when the moment is right for us to do this; the loss and heartbreak we feel when someone is no longer a part of our lives; and yet how vital it is that we make that break and move on to better and happier times.

These feelings lived on in me long after I finished watching the show and I needed the comfort of cookies. So I made these almond and ginger cookies.

They're adapted from a Lilly Higgins recipe. (She's a Cork lady and a great baker.)

Makes 10 regular sized cookies
50g olive oil
60g light muscovado sugar
75g almond butter
100g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bread soda
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
40g ginger nuts (stem ginger)*, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons of the syrup from the stem ginger
40g almonds, roughly chopped
30g sesame seeds 

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C/350F.
  • Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
  • Mix the olive oil, sugar, almond butter, flour, soda and ginger in a bowl until well combined.
  • Add the chopped ginger nuts, syrup and chopped almonds and mix again.
  • Roll teaspoons of the dough into balls and then roll the balls in the sesame seeds until they are coated.  
  • Place on the baking tray and flatten slightly. (These cookies don't spread out much while baking.)
  • Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow to cool on the tray and then dig in.

Episode six of Girls shows in Ireland tonight and I've only got one cookie left. Perhaps I need to get baking?

*Some of you have expressed confusion about ginger nuts/stem ginger. They are pictured on the spoon in the photo above and are essentially preserved, candied ginger bottled in a sweet syrup. You'll find them for sale in an increasing number of supermarkets but I often find mine in Middle Eastern stores (where they are cheaper too). 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My week in dinners

I don't know if there was ever a time when food was simple. The ingredients we cook with, the way in which we cook them and how we eat have always been indicators of status. Here in Ireland, the high society who lived in grand houses dined on the finest foods for centuries while peasants subsisted on potatoes, oats and hardy vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, cabbage and kale.

However, I think food has become more complicated in recent years. Turkey Twizzlers or tofu, chia pudding or Coco Pops, sliced pan or artisan sourdough; what you eat has never said more about who you are and how you want others to see you.

Food bloggers have certainly had a part to play in this. We all work hard to style our food photos to make them look as appealing as possible. Everything from the dish the meal is served in to the artfully-placed green herb placed on top has been carefully considered.  The words and images we use convey a message about food and it's not always a helpful one. And nor does it necessarily represent the way we eat every day.

While I'm lucky in that I love cooking and experimenting with new flavours and dishes, I don't always have the time or energy to cook at the end of a long day. And while I certainly pay some attention to how I present the food when I plate it up, the pressure to put food on the table means that I don't style it to within an inch of its life. For one thing, the food would be stone cold by the time I was satisfied with how it looked!

This is why I was intrigued by an idea suggested by fellow food blogger Bumbles of Rice. She called on food bloggers to tell their readers just what they had for dinner for five consecutive days. 

So, here is my week in dinners:

Wednesday: Minestrone soup
A solo dinner: which explains why I'm eating early and reading the paper

I usually try to make a batch of soup for dinner once a week.  I always make extra as I mostly work from home during the day and a bowl of soup makes for a quick and easy lunch. It's also a good fall-back option if I'm too tired to cook dinner on another evening during the week.
You can find the recipe for this soup here

Thursday: Jamie Oliver's cauliflower risotto with anchovy breadcrumbs

Forgive the god-awful picture but this is what it looks like when you use your camera phone and  there is no natural light - it is dinner time and February in Ireland after all!

Friday: grilled miso salmon, brown rice and veggies

Once again: the evening light is rubbish
I eat at least three servings of fish every week, with a focus on oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc. This ties in with my OMS diet which prioritizes intake of omega 3 fats, which we should all be trying to get more of.

Saturday: Potato and cauliflower curry from Olive Magazine - I adapted this to suit my diet and added this mushroom and spinach dish, some flat breads and yoghurt. (I know it's cauliflower again but it's cheap at the moment and I had lots of it in the fridge!)

Sunday: Pork roasted in the oven with onions, apples and wholegrain mustard served with mashed potatoes, crushed carrots and parsnips and brussel sprouts 

Because my diet means I can't eat meat, my boyfriend rarely eats meat during the week. To make up for this, I usually cook him something meaty on Sundays, serving myself something that is easy to rustle up alongside. On this day, I had a baked mackerel dish with the same sides.
But I forgot to take a picture as we were rushing out to the cinema.

Monday: I had some mashed potato and mackerel left over from Sunday as well as some tuna in olive oil in the cupboard so I used them to make this:

Tuna (and mackerel) fishcakes with parsley and caper salad from Olive Magazine again

(I know this is six days of dinners. But because I forgot to photograph one, I thought you deserved one extra!)

Your daily dinners are probably different to mine. They may not focus as much on fish and vegetables. Maybe you don't have the same amount of time or inclination to cook as I do . You might also live closer to a good takeout or a restaurant where you can eat cheaply and well (8 miles from Dingle town - where most good restaurants are pricey - I don't have such luxuries). Whatever the case, I'd love to hear about your week in dinners.

Blogger Widget